As the summer rages on, coronavirus infection rates continue to climb across the country. States such as Texas, Arizona and Florida are seeing record spikes on an almost daily basis. As of July 15, there were more than 3.41 million infections and at least 134,000 deaths from the virus in the US, and it’s not done.
Unfortunately, in the midst of all this bad news another negative trend is emerging. Some states are seeing an increase in the number of young people being admitted to the hospital for COVID-19. That flies in the face of a commonly held belief that young people don’t get seriously ill from the coronavirus.
It remains true that the majority of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 are older Americans, and the death rate in the younger population is still very low. But the new reports from hospitals across the country are proving not only that more young people are getting infected but that they’re also getting sick enough to require hospitalization.
At one Arizona hospital, six COVID-19 patients in their 20s were admitted by a physician during one shift on Sunday. Most of those patients, the physician noted, were young, healthy individuals before contracting the virus. Across Arizona, people between the ages of 20 and 44 make up 20 percent of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
At a Houston hospital, more than 60 percent of the patients hospitalized by the coronavirus in March and April were over the age of 55, while about 20 percent were under 55. In June and July, the percentage of patients under 50 climbed to 40 percent.
The rising infection rate in younger people may be explained by the fact that a high percentage are overweight and have a history of smoking or vaping. These risk factors can contribute to the development of a severe illness from the coronavirus. Young people are also more likely to gather in large crowds, attend parties and shun social distancing, believing they are immune to the virus.
And then there’s Florida, one of the worst coronavirus hotspots. According to a report released July 10, at least 31 percent of children who were tested for the coronavirus recorded positive. As part of a state initiate, 54,022 Florida residents under 18 were tested and 16,797 tests came back positive. The positivity rate for Florida’s entire population is approximately 11 percent.
This report comes as Florida, along with many other states, debates the risk of returning students to school this fall. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children and adolescents are “less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease” from COVID-19 infection. But they can still carry the virus and infect others.
In May, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory about a severe inflammatory condition discovered in children believed to be associated with the coronavirus called MIS-C. Florida’s pediatric report notes there have been 13 cases of MIS-C in children under 18 in the state.
To be fair, not all states have experienced a rise in infections and hospitalizations of younger patients. Some states, such as Colorado and Idaho, report that their age distribution has remained fairly flat. In California, the average age of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has decreased, but only slightly, from 64 at the beginning of the pandemic to 57 in early July.
Another key finding in the ongoing fight against COVID-19 is that the most disproportionately affected young people are those of color, especially those who have underlying medical conditions. And young people of color are more likely to experience chronic health conditions associated with poor COVID-19 outcomes.
Common chronic conditions affecting minorities include diabetes, obesity, asthma, hypertension and heart disease. These conditions increase the risk of severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. They affect people of color, including young people, at higher rates than non-Hispanic whites, putting them at higher risk for serious COVID-19 infections.
For everyone’s sake, continue to practice the recommended safety precautions: Wash your hands frequently, wear a mask in public and stay 6 feet away from others.